In 1981, Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb were preteen best friends living near Gulfport, Mississippi, so fascinated with Steven Spielberg's new film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, that they decided to make their own version. Every character, every shot, start to finish. The sets would be in their basements and backyards. Cute, right?
Over the next seven years, the boys amazingly finished the film and proudly showed it to the community at the PepsiCo Auditorium in Gulfport (hmm, reminiscent of those 2008 films I mentioned...). That was supposed to be the end of the story - until Hostel director Eli Roth resurrected their film almost 15 years later for a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, TX, which started the ball rolling that eventually landed the now-adult trio an audience with the man himself - Steven Spielberg. Buzz out of Austin and a 2004 Vanity Fair article ("Raiders of the Lost Backyard") began a flood of press that soon reached producer Scott Rudin (No Country for Old Men), who acquired the life rights of Chris, Eric, and Jayson for the purpose of creating the currently untitled feature length film about their story, to be written by Daniel Clowes (Ghost World). Until that happens, Chris and Eric continue to attend screenings of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation while also working on their next project, What The River Takes.
I had the fortunate opportunity to attend a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation that was introduced by Eric Zala, who was the "official" director but also played Belloq. The story of the making of the film sounds fantastic; the DVD commentary for this might eventually end up being the best commentary ever, provided the trio can remember everything that happened over two decades ago. In any case, what really sets their story apart from other amateurs is the simple fact that their film is actually really good.
Seriously, just take a look at this shot-by-shot comparison. Still not impressed? Think about the fact that DVD and even VHS were unavailable for the first few years of their production. So yes, they had to recreate it from memory - memory and the 602 storyboards hand drawn by Eric Zala (check out the rest of the incredible production information here). Sure the video and audio aren't great, and yes, the continuity of haircuts and pubescent voices isn't perfect, but come on - it took them seven years, and the end result is still an amusing but astonishingly accurate recreation of the original Raiders, complete with all the same stunts, silly lines, and stirring musical score by John Williams. The only part missing from their 100 minute film is the well known Nazi vs. plane propeller scene from Raiders, but it's not because it was too difficult or dangerous (you can laugh away that thought after seeing the first 10 minutes of the film). Rather, as Eric Zala told the audience afterwards, it was because they couldn't get their hands on an expendable airplane, and using a model would have looked too "fake." Seriously, these guys didn't mess around - even when they were messing around.
I can't really do justice to the original Vanity Fair article, so I'll stop here and point you back up to that. If you're a fan of the Indiana Jones trilogy or even just a former backyard filmmaker yourself, do yourself a favor and find your way to the next screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. Eric Zala appeared confident that the Hollywood version of their story will happen soon, so keep an eye out. With the now confirmed box office success of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the timing might just be perfect for the adaptation of The Adaptation.